Is it possible to offend people from all walks of life while simultaneously helping families who are experiencing financial setbacks?
It seems CBS' new series The Briefcase is doing just that.
The show features struggling American families, one of which is gifted a briefcase containing $101,000. But the windfall comes with a catch. The recipients are given information on another family, struggling as badly, if not worse. Some have children with disabilities. Some are wounded military veterans. All of them need help.
The family given the briefcase of cash has to decide whether to keep the cash or share it with the other family. The casting so far would seem to show The Briefcase chooses families who put the strangers before themselves.
If you're not offended, you're probably touched.
But in a made-for-reality TV twist, both families are soon forced to make the same decision. Unaware the other family received the same briefcase and offer, unsuspecting families agonize over whether to keep the money or share it. They visit each others' homes, where the guilt piles on. Broken appliances are revealed. Artificial limbs are spotted.
Critics call the show exploitative (what reality show isn't?) and it has the Twitterati in an uproar:
I'm not normally this vocal but I'm disgusted by the shows concept. There's a lot of bad reality TV but this is just wrong #TheBriefcase
— Amy Purdy (@AmyPurdyGurl) May 28, 2015
#TheBriefcase is a show where poor people are pitted against each other for money. And to test game theory principles? I'm disgusted.
— Sheila Vakharia PhD (@MyHarmReduction) June 1, 2015
OK holy crap #TheBriefcase. Quit while you're ahead and cancel the show now
— Alex Jacob (@whoisalexjacob) May 28, 2015
— Frank Zupan (@FrankZupan) May 28, 2015
Comedy Central's The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore recently went off on the "condescending" show, saying "CBS has found a new way to exploit the underprivileged for the sake of ratings."
Despite the backlash, Adweek has learned CBS is not considering pulling the show. The ratings are simply too strong. In its debut episode last Wednesday, The Briefcase finished first in households (4.3 rating / 08 share) and in viewers (6.87 million) and second in the two younger demos of adults 18-49 and adults 25-54. The Briefcase is up +13 percent in households and up +75 percent in adults 18-49 compared to the same night last year.
CBS declined to comment on the negative attention the show has received.
The Briefcase seems to be both a win/win and a lose/lose scenario. Yes, a needy family is going to receive a pile of cash. But it comes with shame, heartache and public humiliation. Even worse, a well-deserving family that decides to keep the money is going to be viewed as greedy.